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Save us from the Time of Trial

Sermon preached by the Rev. Lowell E. Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Fayetteville, AR
July 16, 2006; 6 Pentecost, Proper 10, Year B
Episcopal Revised Common Lectionary

(Mark 6:14-29) -- King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."

For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to hermother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter." The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.



Scholars tell us that the phrase we repeat over and over in the Lord's Prayer -- "and lead us not into temptation" -- would be more accurately translated into English as our alternate version does -- "save us from the time of trial." You recall the phrase that follows. "And deliver us from evil."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says this phrase anticipates "this huge trial that's coming, this huge crisis that's coming. Lead us not into crisis, don't, please God don't push us into the time of crisis before you've made us ready for it. Don't push us until you've given us what we need to face it." Archbishop Williams goes on to say to us, "Don't assume you know how much you're capable of. Pray that when the time of trial comes when things get really difficult you will have the resource to meet it." (http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/features/lords_prayer/)

"Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil," we pray. And hopefully none of us will ever have to confront personally an experience of radical evil. But terrible things happen in this unjust world. If we face the time of trial, how shall we respond?

Jesus began his public ministry on the occasion of the imprisonment of his cousin John the Baptizer, "proclaiming the good news of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.'" (Mark 1:14-15) Jesus meets the bad news of John's arrest with the good news of God's immanent kingdom.

Six chapters later in Mark's Gospel -- we don't know how much elapsed time that might represent -- we hear the brutal story of John's execution. It is a story of such indignant cruelty. An evil tyrant gives John's head on a platter as a reward for some erotic dancing. Could there be a more disgusting example of corrupt despotism? This is the kind of behavior that calls zealots to armed struggle and resistance.

How this news must have struck Jesus. John was his friend and cousin. It was John who first encouraged Jesus' vocation. Jesus loved and respected John. Maybe he saw his own work as following in the footsteps of John, his mentor and colleague. Jesus' outrage and grief would have been profound. This violence hits close to home. Would Jesus be next? "Save us from the time of trial, and deliver us from evil."

How does Jesus react? How does he respond? It is interesting what he doesn't do. He doesn't fulfill the Messianic expectations by raising an army to overthrow the rule of Herod and the hated Romans. He doesn't turn to the underground movement of Zealots and plot revenge. According to Mark's Gospel, after this personal encounter with radical evil, Jesus tried to go away with his friends to a deserted place to rest for a while, but a great crowd followed them. And, the scripture says, he had compassion for them. He taught for a while. Then, when it grew late, he took five loaves and two fish, blessed and broke and gave them to the multitudes, and fed them.

How do you confront radical evil? Jesus did so with radical generosity.

In 1987 Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie allowed his assistant Terry Waite to go to Lebanon to negotiate for the release of four hostages. Waite was promised safe conduct to visit with the hostages. That promise was broken, and Terry Waite himself became a hostage for almost five years. For most of that time he was in solitary confinement, chained to a wall and blindfolded, given five minutes a day unchained to go to the bathroom.

After his release, he founded Hostage UK, a support ministry for hostage families. Waite has written and spoken widely about his hope for reconciliation and peace. His consistent message: "Terrorism is not ultimately defeated by the force of arms; you have to deal with the root causes and ask what makes people act in such extreme ways." He called the Iraq war "one of the real roots of the recent terrorism. I always said that it would create a black hole into which extremists would pour.” And speaking four years ago of the conditions at Guantanamo prison, he said, "I am not soft on terrorism -- I have had too many dealings with it to be so -- but I am passionate that we must observe standards of justice." And he called for international oversight over that facility. (http://www.counterpunch.org/waite1.html)

Terry Waite is the founder of Y Care, assisting victims of war, particularly those in Lebanese refugee camps and across the Occupied Territories. He is also a patron of Neve Shalom (Oasis for Peace), a community of 50 families, half Palestinian and half Jewish, who live together in a democratically governed society. He staunchly defends the Arab peoples as among the most hospitable in the world and works to counter the stereotyping that victimizes the mass of Arabs because of the actions of a few radical fundamentalists. Terry Waite has been saved in his time of trial and delivered from evil. Now, like Jesus, he proclaims the good news, and calls people to repent and believe in that good news.

I've shared with you before the story of a New York family whom I met while I was in seminary. Their adolescent son was killed on the sidewalk by an unrepentant young thug who said he shot him because he didn't like the way the boy laughed. The family publically forgave their son's killer and grieved for his family, because their family too, in so many ways, had also lost a son.

Hector Aristizabal was tortured for three days and three nights for being a member of an intellectual family in Columbia. He was beaten, held under water, shocked with electricity, and given mock executions. He lives with involuntary "flashbulb memories." Today he works with prisoners, schoolchildren, and in hospice care with the dying and their families as a founder of the Theater of the Oppressed, an artistic movement that seeks to bring about social change through performance. He has "come to think of having been tortured as an initiation ritual, a wounding that has marked his life purpose." (Utne, July-August, 2006, p. 46)

A few years ago we used Suzanne Simon's book How to Make Peace with your Past and Get on with your Life as our Lenten study on forgiveness. The book summarizes the workshops she and her husband conduct. She uses her own pilgrimage of freedom as a survivor of incest as a template for others in their the journey of forgiveness.

When we pray the Lord's Prayer, we ask that we will be spared such times of trial and such evils. But we also pray that if "the time of trial comes ...[we] will have the resource to meet it."

We live in an age when our senses are assaulted by reports of atrocities and violence world wide. We know of cruel despots and unjust imprisonments. We know about beheadings. How shall we respond to this time of trial? How shall we be delivered from this evil?

Can we face our trials with the generosity of Jesus? Can we live in the faithful tradition of so many other inspiring heroes? What if we used our sufferings as a motivation to help teach and feed the multitudes? How can we make the words of the Lord's Prayer more alive? "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."

Cruelties and atrocities abound in this fallen world. But God calls us to be a people who live in the spirit of Jesus. He never responded to violence with violence, but faced evil with strong compassion, loving generosity and reconciling forgiveness. We call it the way of the cross. Strong compassion, loving generosity and reconciling forgiveness. It is a choice that takes great courage. What do you do when a despot beheads a righteous man? Jesus looked around for people who needed feeding.

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